Trial a-go in Dateline suicide case

February 27, 2008 11:08:37 AM PST
In a stinging rebuke to the NBC News "Predator" series, a federal judge has given the go-ahead for a lawsuit blaming the network for the suicide of a Texas prosecutor who was targeted in an undercover sting against alleged pedophiles. U.S. District Judge Denny Chin ruled that "a reasonable jury could find that NBC crossed the line from responsible journalism to irresponsible and reckless intrusion into law enforcement."

The suit was brought by the sister of William Conradt Jr., an assistant district attorney in Rockland County, Texas, who shot himself in the head after a local police SWAT team, accompanied by a "Dateline" crew, surrounded his house and moved in to arrest him in November 2006.

Judge Chin dismissed claims of racketeering, negligence and unjust enrichment against NBC but said allegations of intentional infliction of emotional distress and certain civil rights violations could go to trial.

The judge said he concluded there were sufficient facts in the allegations to "render plausible" the suicide was foreseeable and that "the police officers and NBC acted with deliberate indifference and in a manner that would shock one's conscience."

"This decision shows law enforcement should never subcontract their uniform, badge and the oath they take," Bruce Baron, the attorney representing Conradt's sister Patricia in the lawsuit against NBC Universal, Inc., said. "Patricia looks forward to protecting the constitutional rights that were trampled upon on that very dreadful day."

Conradt's suicide was at the center of an ABC News "20/20" investigation looking into troubling questions for both law enforcement and the news media raised by the popular "Dateline" series.

When Conradt did not take the bait to go to the sting house set up by Dateline and Perverted Justice, a civilian watchdog group hired as a paid consultant by NBC, the decision was made to go get him at his home in Terrell, Texas.

Conradt's sister Patricia told "20/20" the police broke in and then headed down a hallway to the bedroom where her brother was waiting for them with a gun in his hand.

"They came in, and they see him," Patricia said. "He says, 'Guys, I'm not gonna hurt anybody.' And then he put the gun to his head and shot."

William Conradt died shortly after a helicopter called in landed at a Dallas hospital.

Walter Weiss, a former detective with the police department that partnered with Dateline, and who has since left the force in disgust, told "20/20," "I understand he took his own life, but I have a feeling that he took his own life when he looked out the door and saw there was a bunch of television cameras outside."

NBC and the Murphy police, who had partnered with the series, deny NBC played any role in the decision to make the arrest, which involved a swat team breaking down the prosecutor's door when he did not answer.

And in a response following the "20/20" broadcast, NBC called the ABC News investigation "seriously flawed."

"We think evidence will ultimately show that 'Dateline' acted responsibly and lawfully, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously, " NBC News said today in a statement responding to Judge Chin's ruling.